Wind farm a no-go, 5-5 tie vote enacts commissioners’ wishes

Tipton County Indiana (east of Kokomo, IN).

(The following was first published in The Rochester Sentinel of Rochester, IN on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.)

Staff Writer, The Sentinel

A Fulton County Area Plan Commission tie vote Monday means county commissioners’ decision to prohibit commercial wind energy conversion systems in the unincorporated area of the county will go into effect.

The plan commission was split 5-5 on whether to uphold the action taken by county commissioners, who determined with a Dec. 4 resolution that commercial wind farms are not in the best interest of the health, safety and general welfare of the public.

According to Fulton County Attorney Greg Heller, the plan commission’s tie vote constitutes no action being taken.

“If no action is taken, then that would be a failure to act,” he informed the plan commission prior to its vote. He noted the county’s zoning ordinance, which regulates both commercial and noncommercial wind turbines, will now be amended and commercial wind energy conversion systems will not be allowed in the unincorporated area of the county on Jan. 18, 2018 – 45 days after county commissioners Bryan Lewis and Rick Ranstead signed the resolution.

Plan Commission President Eric Straeter commended the efforts of Lewis and Ranstead, saying, “They definitely did their due diligence on the issue.”

“They were open to the public, and they did their homework,” he said, adding they went beyond what’s expected of a county commissioner. “They made a decision that was unexpected by many of us, probably all of us on the board, if I had to guess.”

Ranstead, who is also a member of the plan commission, was joined in voting in favor of commissioners’ recommendation by plan commission members Kathy Hobbs, Duane Border, Bob Cannedy and Straeter. Board members Mark Kepler, Don Towne, Jim Widman, Deborah Barts and Crystal Weida voted no.

During the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, the plan commission was asked by Gretchen Coplen if anyone on the board had signed a contract with Renewable Energy Systems, or RES, which has been contacting landowners to sign lease agreements for a wind farm that would encompass south Fulton County, northwest Miami County and northeast Cass County. The proposed project would have brought 133 wind turbines to the county at a near $600 million investment.

“I live down there, and I haven’t,” Widman responded, adding “But, I think that was my right that I should have been able to make that decision myself. I shouldn’t of had 10 percent of the population make the decision for me.”

Brad Lila, director of development for RES, spoke on behalf of his company saying, “… we oppose the resolution put forth by the county commission,” adding such action will result in “significant financial loss.”

Lynn Plummer-Studebaker, an active member of a grassroots campaign aimed at keeping commercial wind turbines out of the county, told the plan commission not enough research was done prior to amendments to the ordinance being proposed.

“I have proof of that from emails that I’ve obtained,” she said, referencing a public records request she submitted to Fulton County Area Plan Director Casi Cowles. “I just think that upholding the ban is the right thing to do because there was no research done and these are not safe.”

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